No Packers fan who followed the team during the 24-year drought between Vince Lombardi’s last season as coach and Mike Holmgren’s first needs to be reminded about how bleak things appeared to be for most of that time.
The bottom line tells all.
- One division title.
- Two playoff appearances.
- One playoff victory.
- Five winning seasons.
But there was a handful of teams that were competitive and created hope. Here’s a list of the five best Packers teams from 1968 through 1991.
1. 1972 – Winners of the NFC Central with a 10-4 record, the ’72 Packers featured a defense that finished second in the league in yards allowed and a running game that ranked seventh. John Brockington and MacArthur Lane combined for 1,848 rushing yards. Cornerback Willie Buchanon was the consensus NFL defensive rookie of the year and kicker Chester Marcol the consensus NFC rookie of the year. Defensive tackle Bob Brown and linebacker Fred Carr were Pro Bowl picks, along with Brockington and Marcol; while Ken Ellis, Buchanon’s counterpart at cornerback, was an Associated Press and United Press International All-Pro. The Packers lost to Washington, 16-3, in the playoffs when quarterback Scott Hunter’s limitations were exposed and coach Dan Devine stuck with his running game against a five-man defensive front. But that’s not to say Hunter was bereft of redeeming qualities. He was a strong leader who was being hailed as a young Bart Starr, his quarterback coach that year and a fellow University of Alabama alumnus.
2. 1982 – In what was a strike-shortened season with no division races, the Packers finished 5-3-1, the third-best record among the NFC’s 14 teams. They also beat the St. Louis Cardinals, 41-16, in the first round of what was called a Super Bowl Tournament before losing to Dallas, 37-26, in the second round. The ’82 Packers had an abundance of firepower with Lynn Dickey at quarterback; James Lofton, John Jefferson and Paul Coffman as the starting receivers and tight end; and Eddie Lee Ivery and Gerry Ellis in the backfield. In fact, all three pass catchers were selected for the Pro Bowl that year, along with center Larry McCarren. And unlike Starr’s last team as head coach, the 1983 Packers, the ’82 team was respectable on defense, finishing eighth in yards allowed. Its shortcomings were Dickey’s lack of mobility against a good pass rush and a secondary short on speed and youth except for third-year cornerback Mark Lee.
3. 1989 – The ’89 Packers finished 10-6, only to lose a tiebreaker to Minnesota and get left out of the playoffs. But they produced plenty of high drama. They won four games by one point and three others by 2, 3 and 4 points. Sterling Sharpe led the NFL with 90 catches and quarterback Don Majkowski merited the nickname “Majik Man,” at least for one season, by finishing second to Joe Montana in MVP voting. Outside linebacker Tim Harris had 19½ sacks and was a consensus all-pro. But typical of Lindy Infante’s teams, the running game was no better than average even though former No. 1 draft pick Brent Fullwood had his only productive season. The defensive line was pedestrian at best. And the secondary was manned by graybeards.
4. 1968 – The ’68 Packers finished with a losing record, 6-7-1, and in third place in the four-team NFC Central. But five of the seven losses were by seven points or less. The 22 starters were the same 22 who started in 1967 when the Packers won their third straight NFL championship under Vince Lombardi. Bart Starr had the second-best passer rating of his career, 104.3, compared to 105.0 in his 1966 MVP season. The defense ranked in the top three in the NFL for the seventh straight year. And the ’68 Packers lost the division by only a game-and-a-half. Next to Lombardi, the biggest loss from the previous season was kicker Don Chandler. The Packers tried four kickers who were a combined 13 of 29 on field goal attempts, including 4 of 10 from 20 to 29 yards. In other words, Lombardi, as GM, failed his successor as coach, Phil Bengtson, by not finding someone better than the likes of Mike Mercer and Errol Mann.
5. 1984 – The 1969 Packers rebounded from a 6-7-1 record to finish 8-6, but with eight mostly aging Lombardi mainstays in the lineup it was by now a shell of his championship teams. The 1978 Packers went 8-7-1, but won only one of their last seven games. So this pick comes down to the four 8-8 teams Starr and Forrest Gregg produced over a five-year stretch from 1981-85. Starr’s 1983 Packers finished second in the NFL in total yards and scored 40 points or more four times. But the defense ranked dead last and was in the bottom five against the run and pass. By contrast, Gregg’s ’84 Packers still ranked sixth in offense but jumped to 16th in defense. They also won seven of their last eight games, including four by 24 points or more. While the roster contained a nice blend of youth and experience, Dickey turned 35 during the season and was nearing the end of the line. Although he finished seventh in the league in passing, he also got knocked out of six games.